Nutrition for Combat

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By: Annabelle Shaffer, Dietetics senior at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

 

Military Members Nutritional Status

Obesity rates are on the rise in the overall United States population as well as the US military. In fact, 51.2% of all service members are overweight or obese.1 Not only does obesity negatively impact a soldier’s health, but it also increases medical spending and diminishes performance ability during missions.1 Additionally, the nationwide rise in obesity decreases the number of eligible military recruits based on body composition and body mass index (BMI).1

The majority of military members meet the Healthy People 2010 physical activity guidelines.2 However, less than 50% meet the US Dietary Guidelines and over 80% do not meet the Healthy People 2020 dietary guidelines.1,2 The current US Dietary Guidelines advocate for the daily intake of:3

Service members who followed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and fish had significantly higher scores on the Army Physical Fitness Test (AFPT) compared to those following a less nutrient-dense diet.2 The APFT evaluates soldiers on the number of sit-ups and push-ups completed in two minutes and their speed on a two-mile (3.2 km) run.4 To prepare for the physical rigors of the test, the Army recommends cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training.4 Daily breakfast consumption also correlated with greater healthy eating scores and less unnecessary weight gain.1,6

Improving Military Members Nutritional Status 

POMC researches three high-risk times for weight gain in military communities: pregnancy and early childhood, adolescence, and after the first tour of duty.5 Targeting multiple time points decreases the medical costs due to obesity and improves the health of future soldiers as children raised by military members are more likely to enlist.5

There are no specific guidelines in place for military members, however, the general healthy eating guidelines do apply with some modifications. As listed above, a healthy diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein. Due to strenuous physical activity, military members have increased protein and calorie needs. Additionally, a post-exercise snack can improve diet quality.2

Finally, eating out less frequently can improve dietary quality.2 Healthy snacks and meals can be prepped in advance and eaten on the go. Examples include Greek yogurt with berries and granola, whole wheat crackers with tuna, pre-cut veggies with hummus, and salads made with grilled chicken or fish.

 

References

  1. Shams-White M, Deuster P. Obesity Prevention in the Military. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(2):155-162. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0258-7
  2. Purvis D, Lentino C, Jackson T, Murphy K, Deuster P. Nutrition as a Component of the Performance Triad: How Healthy Eating Behaviors Contribute to Soldier Performance and Military Readiness. US Army Med Dep J. 2013.
  3. A Closer Look at Current Intakes and Recommended Shifts – 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines – health.gov. Health.gov. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/. Published 2019. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  1. APFT Calculator, Standards and Exercise. goarmy.com. https://www.goarmy.com/soldier-life/fitness-and-nutrition/exercise.html. Published 2019. Accessed April 3, 2019.
  2. Spieker E, Sbrocco T, Theim K et al. Preventing Obesity in the Military Community (POMC): The Development of a Clinical Trials Research Network.Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015;12(2):1174-1195. doi:10.3390/ijerph120201174
  3. Smith T, Dotson L, Young A et al. Eating Patterns and Leisure-Time Exercise among Active Duty Military Personnel: Comparison to the Healthy People Objectives. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(7):907-919. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.03.002

Understanding Military Homecoming After Deployment

By Leanne Knobloch, University of Illinois

woman with white jacket and blue shirtFor many military couples, deployment can be a seemingly endless countdown to the service member’s homecoming. But, after the big day finally arrives and the welcome home ceremony is over, what’s next for military couples?

A new study our research team published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology provides insight into the transition from deployment to reintegration. Our project was funded by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs through the Military Operational Medicine Research Program. My co-authors on the study included my sister, Dr. Lynne Knobloch-Fedders from Marquette University, and our collaborator, Dr. Jeremy Yorgason from Brigham Young University.

We had two goals for our investigation. First, we wanted to map out the transition from deployment to reintegration. Second, we wanted to identify factors that predict challenges along the way.

We conducted the study by recruiting 1,100 individuals who were part of 555 military couples, and we asked them to complete an online questionnaire once per month for eight consecutive months after the service member’s homecoming from deployment. Each month, returning service members and at-home partners reported on their mental health, their relationship, and their difficulty with reintegration.

Participants included active duty, reserve component, and National Guard military couples. The study involved military couples from all branches of service.

Our findings showed that military couples reported the most difficulty with reintegration approximately four to five weeks after homecoming, and at-home partners reported more difficulty with reintegration than returning service members at each time point.

These results highlight the importance of supporting at-home partners. The timing of help matters as well. In particular, four to five weeks after homecoming may be a key opportunity for offering services.

Other findings revealed that mental health symptoms predicted later difficulty with reintegration. Posttraumatic stress symptoms for returning service members, and depressive symptoms for at-home partners, made the transition especially challenging.

Based on these results, it’s important to know the symptoms of mental health problems and be ready to seek help if needed. Readjusting after deployment can be tough, and reaching out for assistance if necessary is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family.

Our data also showed that characteristics of people’s relationships predicted difficulty with reintegration down the road. The transition was harder for partners who had questions about their relationship and who got in the way of each other’s daily routines.

What do these results mean? As much as possible, people should open the lines of communication, share information, ask questions, and learn where their partner is coming from. And, carefully building new routines and making sure those routines run smoothly should be helpful as well.

 

Source: Knobloch, L. K., Knobloch-Fedders, L. M., & Yorgason, J. B. (2019). Mental health symptoms and the reintegration difficulty of military couples following deployment: A longitudinal application of the relational turbulence model. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 75, 742-765.

 

Leanne K. Knobloch (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin – Madison) is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois. Her research examines how people communicate during times of transition, including how military families navigate the deployment cycle and how romantic couples cope with depression. Her work has been honored by the Golden Anniversary Monograph Award from the National Communication Association, the Biennial Article Award from the International Association for Relationship Research, and the University Scholar Award from the University of Illinois.